Will a new star be born at Swanage?

Next August, we will mark a half century since the end of British Railways standard gauge steam haulage. It would be easy to assume that the unswerving public passion for steam locomotives, particularly among the schoolboy trainspotters of the Fifties and Sixties, would have been quickly extinguished, as new hobbies were by necessity sought.

Not so. The public clamour for steam is now arguably greater than at any time in the past 50 years. Look at the huge crowds that Flying Scotsman and Tornado attract wherever they go, in this age of celebrity culture.

Furthermore, despite the years of austerity and fears over the impending post-Brexit economy, there seems to be more people ready than ever before to finance worthwhile heritage sector projects.

In this issue we report on, for example, the Norfolk businessman who has bought shares in BR Standard 4MT No. 76084 to keep it in the county, and the anonymous donor who paid for the Fairbourne Railway’s Russell to have a new firebox, not to mention the benefactor who has facilitated the move of the Swanage Railway’s latest acquisition, LSWR Adams T3 4-4-0 No. 563, to the Flour Mill workshops at Bream in the Forest of Dean for an exploratory dismantling to see if it can be returned to steam nearly 75 years after withdrawal.

Here is a classic project which has not only caught the imagination of one individual sponsor but rail fans everywhere, especially those who adore all things Southern.

The Purbeck line launched a £50,000 appeal to fund the start of work on returning the T3 to steam, if the proven experts in 19th century locomotive restoration at the Flour Mill find that is feasible. And within just six weeks, nearly £43,000 had been donated, making it one of the fastest-growing appeals of its kind in the history of preservation, with cheques still coming in by the day.

Earlier this year there was controversy over whether the National Railway Museum should have ‘gifted’
No. 563, a National Collection locomotive, to Swanage, and as we reported in our last issue, questions were asked about it in the House of Commons.

However, subsequent events have shown that this may well have been the right move for the locomotive, its new home and the sector itself.

If anyone can restore the T3 to running order, it will be the Flour Mill, which performed ‘Mission Impossible’ repairs to the cylinder block of LSWR T9 No. 30120 to enable it to run again seven years ago, despite many saying it couldn’t be done, and look at the performances of Metropolitan Railway E class No.1 on the London Underground after it too was overhauled at Bream, and which it will reprise in July.

A cursory glance at the T3 shows it has Victorian magnificence oozing from every bolthole. Fully restored and running in the shadow of medieval Corfe Castle, it will be a sight that even people who are not railway enthusiasts will want to come and see for themselves and ride behind – a major tourist attraction within a major tourist attraction.

If all goes well, the T3 will become a defining symbol of Purbeck heritage, and well worth every penny spent on it. Is that not better than seeing it tucked away in a corner of a museum far, far away from LSWR territory or, as has been the case in recent years, used as a novelty stage prop?

Of course, £50,000 won’t be enough to get it running under its own power again, but the door is open for sizeable grant aid functions, if of course, it can be returned to steam.

The response to the appeal to date is the icing on the cake for the Swanage Railway, which this year began running regular timetabled public services to Wareham, and has been nominated for the Heritage Railway Association’s Peter Manisty Award for Excellence. Fingers crossed, and it too will soon have its own celebrity locomotive, not only bolstering support for the line, a perfect microcosm of the Southern Railway / Region, but adding to the local economy.

Merry Christmas to all those who dip their hands in their pockets and to make projects like this happen, and keep the steel wheels of steam turning 50 years on.

Robin Jones, Editor

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